Monday, January 4, 2010

For God so loved the world...

All the stress in my life built up and smashed into me this week. It started Tuesday when I was in a car accident trying to get to my carpool for Savior of the World. I slid off the road, smashed a mailbox, and bottomed out my car on a snowbank. I just wanted to push my car off the snow, but half a dozen people couldn't move it, and the people whose mailbox I smashed refused to allow anyone to pull my car out with a tow rope. They insisted that I call a tow truck. A few hours later I arrived at the performance, very shaken. I had missed half of the first act. Wednesday I read a chapter on stress management at work and took a “stressful events in life” assessment. The assessment assigned a value to life events in the past year, like the death of a family member or being in an accident, and then you added them up. Research showed that people with low scores (less than 150) had a lower tendency towards illness and injury. People with medium scores (150-300) had a greater tendency towards stress-related illness and major injury, and 80% of people with higher scores (over 300) would contract a major illness or have a major injury in the next year. I scored a 597. I think that means that I am officially stressed. Most of the time I don't notice stress until it completely knocks me over... and, even then, I don't like to admit it because it then insinuates that I'm inadequate. But knock me over it did, and I am definitely inadequate. Take moving, ending Savior of the World, finally getting to shave (glory to God!), sick family members, more stuff for graduate school... and I was exhausted. End of story: Saturday night, only hours after my family left for Chicago and Savior of the World was officially over, I woke up in the middle of the night nauseous and sore with a raging fever. I was shivering even wrapped in a blanket next to the fireplace. The next morning, I thought it would be a great opportunity to try using some essential oils. I got the nausea to go away, then took a shower and rubbed a few oils over my body to try to get rid of the ache. Four seconds later, my skin was on fire. Soap and water lessened the pain. And while the ache was much less, for the next 40 minutes I had hot, bright red hand prints covering my body. I learned something important: one drop of cinnamon is way too much.

As I've looked at my life recently, I think I've come to better understand the love of the Lord in my life. I used to think that I understood charity. To me, charity was simply the ability to see the divine potential in everyone. It entailed loving all people enough to never judge them, to never harbor a grudge, to forgive them and to treat all men equally. It meant dedicating your life to the betterment of each person in your life, and reaching out to invite others to come unto Christ. And it made sense. But now I realize that there is so much more.

During my growing-up years I struggled with a powerful dichotomy. I realized that I had been greatly blessed by the Lord in many things – from sports to music to school to church to family to everything else. According to the world, I had everything, and every reason to be successful, happy, and accomplished for the rest of my life. But, at the same time, I realized that everyone wasn't given the same talents and blessings I took for granted. A good example is a classmate in my AP classes who had a learning disability. She was incredibly dedicated and spent hours studying in order to remember information for a test, then had to take hours on a test because she had trouble distinguishing between fill-in-the-blank bubbles. I wondered: if God loves all His children equally, why does He bless us so unequally? Why does He bless one and allow another to suffer?

In my mind (and from what I could find in the scriptures), there were two options that would explain my problem. Either God didn't have the power to intervene, didn't care, or was unjust – which was definitely not an option – or those who were blessed were somehow better than everyone else. In the scriptures it explains that all blessings come from adherence to gospel principles... and the parable of the talents explains that the Lord gave each man talents “according to his ability.” But the thought that I was just more righteous in the premortal life, or had forebears who were incredibly righteous and prayed down blessings for me, etc. never sat well with me. It sounded too egotistical... and I struggled to understand it for years and years. I was like the apostles who asked the Lord what sin the man who was born blind (or his parents) had committed to merit such a state. They knew that blessings were given from faithfulness. But the Lord taught them a sublime truth – neither the man nor his parents had committed a sin to merit his condition. He had been born blind to fulfill the purposes of God.

Where I had gone wrong in my question was in my core principles. In the world, we believe that those who are talented, gifted, healthy, popular, and rich are the “blessed,” while those who are disabled, poor, hungry, and sick are experiencing trials. But, in the Lord's eyes, blessings and trials are exactly the same. Both are simply opportunities for us to grow, and He uses both indiscriminately in helping us to return to Him. It's sort of like following recipes in the kitchen. Some recipes are sweet, others are savory. One is not better than the other, but each requires a completely different experience.

Hence, God does not bless one righteous person more than another. If He did, He would become a respecter of persons, and God loves every one of His children. No. He simply blesses them with different things. So, then why does God allow bad things to happen to good people then? The answer is that He doesn't. God has promised us repeatedly in the scriptures that, if we are on the right path, all things shall give us experience and be for our good. All things. That includes experiencing the depths of depression, unspeakable pain, betrayal, as well as the pinnacle of success. Everything in life is designed to help us gain the perspective necessary to return to Father someday. God knew that it was essential that my classmate experience a learning disability in order to progress. I don't know why. But He, her Father and creator, did, and that is why He put her through the fire in that way.

God is in complete control of what happens on the earth. He is all-powerful and He cares about everything that happens in our lives. In fact, God has designed our lives individually – to suit our every need. The scriptures talk about the Lord being a silversmith and trying us by fire. And His love is all-encompassing – not only loving us enough to give us the sweet things in life, but loving us enough to give us the bitter. I look back on my life on things that were incredibly painful. I see my trials and my weaknesses – how easily I wander off the pathway to righteousness. But I also see that those same difficulties – the temptations that beset me, the pain I felt, and the process of turning to the Lord – have taught me things that have changed my life forever. I would have never learned those lessons without having those experiences. And I think that that is the true measure of charity. The Lord knows exactly what things in life we have to experience in order to gain the perspective necessary to return to Him. And He loves us so immensely that He sent us out of His perfect presence to a world full of hunger, war, disease, and pain. He could make the trees and flowers give fruit spontaneously. Instead, He teaches us the value of hard work. He could bind the devil and free us from temptation. Instead, He teaches us to turn to Him, repent, and keep His commandments. He could cure cancer, protect every innocent, abused child, and right every wrong. Instead, He teaches us forgiveness, unconditional love, and faith. God's love is present in all events in our lives, since charity is doing everything possible to enable men to achieve their eternal destiny. “And in nothing doth man offend God... save those who confess not his hand in all things.”

I feel like I love the people around me. I try to see others as children of God, to labor for their success, and to understand their circumstances. And, once, I thought that was enough – that truly wanting good things for others was the measure of charity. But the pure love of Christ extends far beyond wanting to bless others with good things. I see the blessings that have come from my sister having cancer, from the death of my grandmother, and from every other thing in life. I appreciate the experiences that others have had, and I am grateful that the Lord was willing to teach them. But I don't yet love them enough that I would be willing to light the fire of their refinement. God's love is doing anything to give us the wisdom and perspective to return to Him. I still have a lot to learn.

Each of us is on the road to coming closer to the Lord. Sometimes we may think that we completely understand a gospel principle... but, often, we have only understood a portion. As we turn to the Lord and ask Him to bless us, He will give us all the experiences (whether good or bad, painful or pleasant) to help us to become like Him. I know that He loves us that much. Go out and be missionaries!

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